This one won't be easy, but I think we can immediately rule out the worst one, and that's Derby County. Thank you, thank you, I'll be here all week.
I've determined there are probably nine or ten big derbies that are truly deserving of note, but in the interest of time, I've whittled it down to five. We can talk about the big rivalries between different cities (Inter-Juve, Man U-Liverpool, etc.) later, so in the meantime, here's my countdown:
Barely missing the cut: Derby della Capitale (Roma vs. Lazio), The Manchester Derby (Manchester United vs. Manchester City), Derby della Mole (Juventus vs. Torino), Galatasaray vs. Fenerbahce, Olympiacos vs. Panathinaikos.
5. El Derbi Madrileno (Real Madrid vs. Atletico Madrid): This spot could have easily gone to any of the teams listed above (and a few not mentioned), but it goes to Madrid for perfectly encapsulating what intercity rivalries are all about. On the one side, you have the giants of world football, a team overflowing with trophies and praise. They're the bandwagon team that the rest of the country either loves or loves to hate, the club supported by the rich and their stadium is filled with supporters who consistently vote conservatively. Opposing them is a club playing next door to a brewery which, while successful, will always live in the shadow of its rival. This team draws no support outside its home city, and instead is loved by the leftist, rebellious working class. I don't have to tell you which is which. In terms of trophies, Atletico have nothing to be ashamed of (9 Titles, 9 Copa del Rey), but look like chumps compared to Los Blancos (30 Titles, 17 Copa del Rey, 9 European Cups). Also, you know it's a good rivalry when one team calls itself "Los Blancos" because its uniforms are white and the other starts referring to itself as "Los Indios," not for any real reason, but just to be in direct opposition.
4. The Merseyside Derby (Liverpool vs. Everton): Where this one ranks really depends on what you're looking for in a derby. Do you want bitter hatred between the two fan bases and a do-or-die environment on the field? Or do you want an atmosphere of mutual respect and pride in one's shared city? Because if it's the latter, this one is the best. In fact, when there's violence, it's usually under bizarre circumstances such as the 1980 FA Cup when supporters of the two teams actually joined together to attack fans from other clubs. Now that's unity. In terms of silverware, Liverpool has everyone in England beat (18 Titles, 7 FA Cups, 5 European Cups), but Everton are no slouches with 9 Titles and 5 FA Cups of their own. The rivalry gets docked a few points due to the fact that it has been stripped of its meaningfulness in the last few decades (neither team has won the league since 1990) But in the end, it's all about two storied clubs, two historic grounds (Liverpool have been at Anfield and Everton at Goodison Park since 1892!), and a universal love of their home city. If you're not one for fighting or chanting death threats, it doesn't get any better than this.
3. The North London Derby (Arsenal vs. Tottenham Hotspur): It was hard to put this one above Liverpool and Everton, but it currently gets the nod because of the consistent match quality and importance. Though it's been a largely one-sided affair this decade, Tottenham have recently raised the bar through competitive displays and their 5-1 beatdown of the Gunners in the Carling Cup. Both sets of supporters will also not soon forget the 2005-2006 season, when Arsenal waited until the last day of the season to overtake Spurs in the all-important fourth place spot. In terms of intensity, this rivalry is second to none; Gooners keep track of when Tottenham can no longer finish above them in the league and celebrate "St. Totteringham's Day" when it arrives, while Spurs fans could hardly wait to rejoice in their victory over Arsenal (it was only the Carling semifinal!) with commemorative DVDs and coffee mugs. You also know things are bitter between the two sides when you can refer to "Judas" in a football context and everyone in London immediately knows who you're talking about. Both sides have an impressive trophy cabinet (13 Titles, 10 FA Cups for Arsenal; 2 Titles, 8 FA Cups for Tottenham), and Spurs were able to add to it with their Carling Cup victory this season. If Arsenal don't one-up them with the league or the CL this season, you can bet the Gunners will be hearing about it for years.
2. Derby della Madonnina (Milan vs. Internazionale): Two heavyweights of world soccer, this would be a mouthwatering match under any circumstances. Add to it the fact that the two clubs share a city AND a stadium, and now you're really talking. This rivalry is so intense that it even spilled over into the 1990 World Cup when Dutch/AC Milan legends Marco van Basten, Frank Rijkaard, and Rudd Gullit faced German/Inter heroes Jurgen Klinsmann, Lothar Matthaus, and Andreas Brehme in the San Siro. When Germany won, the Italian Inter fans celebrated as though their club had triumphed. In terms of world class players, it would very difficult to top this one, and when it comes to trophies between the two sides, the numbers are staggering (Milan with 17 Titles, 5 Coppa Italia, 7 European Cups and Inter with 15 Titles, 5 Coppa Italia, and 2 European Cups). The fact that there's a hint of politics involved (Inter for the right, Milan for the left) makes the matches even more weighty, and meetings between the two have been known to get ugly (see picture above and the 2004-2005 Champions League). With Inter fighting for the title and Milan battling for fourth, the next meeting (May 4) is almost guaransheed to be a thriller.
1. The Old Firm (Celtic vs. Rangers): You could make a case for any of the rivalries I've mentioned as the best, but I think this one is truly deserving. Because while Milan and Inter are two of the best teams in Italian football, Celtic and Rangers ARE Scottish football. Simply put, there is no challenge to their consistent dominance of their league, and every year they're gunning for the title. These teams are not only the best (Celtic have 41 Titles, 34 Scottish Cups, 1 European Cup and Rangers have a mind-boggling 51 Titles and 31 Scottish Cups), but also sit right across Glasgow from one another. They don't just divide the city, either; both clubs draw support from all over Scotland, the British Isles, and the world at large. And if other derbies have a trickle of political strife to them, this one has a waterfall. When the Old Firm play one another, it's not just Rangers vs. Celtic, it's Protestant vs. Catholic, UDA vs. IRA, Britain vs. Ireland, and Loyalism vs. Independence. Pretty heavy stuff for a football match. Always important, always quality, and always controversial, this is the best derby in the world.
Arsene Wenger cobbled together starting lineups with spit and duct tape and Denilson and somehow the team dragged its ass over the finish line in third or fourth.